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Branding Across Verticals

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How To Coca-Cola Your Company

Articles explicate the downsides of consuming Coca-Cola, the product, but the demand persists. At least some aspect of this enduring want must correlate to the narrative surrounding consumption of the product (this is leaving aside the addictive nature of the caffeine and sugar).

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Photo by Ryan James Christopher on Unsplash

Okay, so, to be fair, the above image is independently produced (and I assume the image is not part of Coca-Cola’s marketing budget — the image fits the brand narrative, nonetheless — classic, iconic, enjoyable). But the company spends billions on advertising, preserving the iconic nature of that brand.

When you think of polar bears, do you think of Coca-Cola? When you think of Santa Claus, do you think of Coca-Cola? The enduring narratives surrounding the brand have, for some, irrevocably altered the nature of our collective recollection of images. In part, I think this has something to do with the ubiquity of those images, and with the ubiquitousness of that brand in those contexts. But still, the iconography was created intentionally, with attention paid to the quality of the campaigns.

In this instance, culture has changed around a product. This idea of reality-altering marketing brings me to the central question of this piece: what are the basics of creating a brand?

I’ve learned what follows from chasing an understanding of the story behind a company, cause, or organization. Here are four steps to narrative brand management; i.e., how to Coca-Cola your company.

1. Learn the company, cause, or organization.

This is a critical aspect of telling that company’s story. If you are developing a narrative behind why someone should adopt a certain product, it is, in my mind, a fundamental tactical blunder not to understand what that product offers to consumers.

In the case of Coca-Cola, perhaps buy a six pack of the product and see how you feel after draining every can or bottle over the course of a few hours. Okay, maybe not that. I would imagine you might be jittery, with an ensuing caffeine/sugar crash a few hours later. This is certainly not an ideal scenario.

Let’s use instead, as a more serious example, a startup that focuses on the mobilization of protest movements for progressive causes. How does the platform function? Is it based on text messages? On an online message board? Is it a standalone app with a large, highly-active, potential user base? What, in other words, is the functional composition of the product?

2. Position the company in the market.

Or, perhaps more directly, ask the following question: what gap is the company filling? In the case of Coca-Cola, maybe it’s boredom, or a late-in-the-day pick-me-up, or a pointless aside to an already overburdened lunch. Or perhaps (and I think this is less likely, though manifest in the above image) a photographer wants to create an iconic shot, and positions a model with a perfectly placed bottle of Coca-Cola. This would be an instance of culture shifting around brand.

Put in a more serious context: maybe progressives who want to mobilize need a push from community to do so. An organizing element might be exactly what’s needed for productive political action. For the aforementioned platform, this need would be at the crux of that platform’s ability to thrive.

In this case, what seems to be missing from the market is a viable way to get people into the streets, into town halls, in front of their legislators, knowing they will have the support of like-minded individuals. So the gap in the market, put simply, is the following: community-oriented political action, as a kind of assured element of that political action.

3. Identify the company’s core audiences.

For Coca-Cola, an admittedly established brand, maybe this audience is everyone with a pulse. Though, as a thought experiment, I want to return to the time when Coca-Cola was beginning its incursion into popular culture.

At this earlier point, the company was certainly trying to appeal to a wide audience through Santa Claus and polar bears (who doesn’t like the holidays and a thrill from the arctic?). But there was still a sort of market segmentation by season, possibly boosting sales during the winter months, but perhaps more effectively tapping into the holiday iconography regardless of season.

Okay, returning to the political mobilization group, the core audiences would seem to be folks who need community to catalyze action, and folks who seek a platform to lead political action. Here, numbers are key — images of people, together, engaged in action toward the same goal. This is the kind of iconography that could fuel the platform’s uptake. This brings me to my final point.

4. Reach segments of that audience with brand narratives across multiple channels.

We already know how Coca-Cola does this. Print, television, internet, radio, etc., etc. Though initially, the placement may have been more modest.

This isn’t the whole picture, though. To that end, how would the political group accomplish this goal?

We have the narrative (community-centered political action). And we have the core audience: people at two poles of political involvement. All that is left is to find a way both to communicate to an audience on the cusp of political involvement, and with a network of leadership that can push the movement forward. The audience polarity, in this context, is what needs to be unified.

Cue photos, stories — compellingly worded reasons for involvement. To me, creating a brand is less about the product itself, as it appears objectively in reality, and, somewhat paradoxically, more about the narrative behind what’s possible with that product playing a role in one’s day-to-day life.

Photo by Marc Fulgar on Unsplash

Whether or not that narrative sticks is likely a function of the amount of marketing resources that are devoted to that narrative. Even so, it’s still worthwhile to communicate a compelling story, I think, whether that story remains an element of an under-explored or burgeoning subculture, or becomes part of a brand that eventually alters popular culture.

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